1. In what way (or ways) does Elwyn resist losing an innocent view of the world despite the fact that he enters into a romantic affair with Sister Morrisohn?
2. Allen's characters are multilayered and always seem to embody as much evil as good. Describe the evil and good aspects of Brother Morrisohn, Roscoe Parker, Sister Cooper (Elwyn's grandmother), Peachie, Sister Morrisohn, and Elwyn.
3. Why does the novel make you laugh, despite dealing with quite a few serious issues? Where does its humor come from? What is the funniest part of the novel for you?
4. Elwyn and Peachie's friendship spans the entire novel. Peachie is with him from his innocent childhood to his hardscrabble existence as an adult at the book's conclusion. How does their relationship with each other change over time?
5. Benny and Elwyn are in many ways remarkably similar, and in just as many ways they are as different as night and day. What are the surprising parallels in their lives? What are the ironic and unexpected differences?
6. What is the real reason that Elwyn's grandmother resents Sister Morrisohn?
7. Who is the novel's most villainous character? Barry McGowan? Brother Morrisohn? Elwyn's grandmother?
8. In Allen's novel, the importance of family and community is paramount. How do Elwyn and Benny feel about each other? Will their relationship continue beyond the book?
9. What role do family and community ultimately play in determining the fate of Elwyn and Sister Morrisohn's relationship? In your opinion, did Elwyn make the right decision to break with Sister Morrisohn?
10. If you had to compare Elwyn to one flawed Bible character, who would it be? David? Samson? King Solomon? Peter? Someone else? In what ways does scripture inform the story?
11. Obviously, it is against the law for an adult woman to have an affair with a sixteen-year-old boy. Does this change the way you feel about Sister Morrisohn? Can her relationship with Elwyn be considered rape? Similarly, did Barry, who is much older than Peachie, molest her? Elwyn learns about several instances of adult/child sex crimes while in college, including Sister Morrisohn's confession about what her father did to her. How does Elwyn feel about this? What position does the novel seem to take on the issue of adults who cross the line (consensually or non-consensually) with minors?
12. Why does the author have the members of the Church of Our Blessed Redeemer Who Walked upon the Waters call themselves "The Faithful"? How does that title, "The Faithful," relate to their religious views? How does it relate to Elwyn and Sister Morrisohn's relationship?
13. Are the Faithful racist? Peachie seems to think so and she hints at this to Barry when they move to the Big Church in Lakeland. Is she right? What is the novel's position on racism? Is it even an issue in the novel?
14. How does skin color and complexion play a role in the novel? How does the fact that the women of the church are dry heads (who do not straighten or relax their hair) impact their view of Peachie and Sister Morrisohn (who are both of mixed race with soft-textured hair)?
15. Despite having contrasting skin tones (dark versus light complexion), Elwyn's grandmother and Sister Morrisohn are similar in a number of ways. Discuss their relationships with Brother Morrisohn, Elwyn, and Chester Harbaugh.
16. Sister Morrisohn's son is gay and she does not approve, although she admits to having had an affair with a woman when she was young. How do the Faithful view homosexuality? Is this view consistent with contemporary evangelical belief? How does Elwyn view it? How are the homosexual characters in the novel portrayed? What position does the novel ultimately take on it?
17. Why does Elwyn marry Mary?
18. Before the "Lord of Travel" section at the book's conclusion, Allen provides several books of lists: dates of births and deaths, timelines, lists of favorite songs. How does this add to your understanding of the characters in the novel? How does it support Allen's recurring theme that we must know where we're coming from before we know where we're going?
19. What does "God Is Love" mean to Elwyn? What does it mean to Peachie?
20. Is the novel, ultimately, a love story?
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From the June 2010 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!